Ethics is boring for most people. As an ethics professor, I have come to admit that. I hear that’s the first step to recovery. In order to delay the boredom of my subject matter, I quiz my students about American music before we start the lecture each morning, helping them to become well-rounded members of an entertainment-obsessed culture. Here is a good example: What album came out exactly 20 years ago and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as the #17 greatest album of all time (the only album in the top 50 released in the 90s, by the way)? Answer: Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”
The first line of one of the songs on that album captures something very important about where I am as a Christian towards other people:
“Come, as you are, as you were, as I want you to be.”
Which is it? The truth of the matter is that my views of Jesus demand that I accept you as you are, my dislike of change wants you to come as you were, and my ever-present selfishness wants you to present yourself as I want you to be.
And, whether you are a new convert to the Christian faith, the barista who makes my coffee, or my wife, I am placing all sorts of expectations on you that have a dash of “come as you are,” a smidgeon of “come as you were,” and a heap of “come as I want you to be.” When you put that together, it’s a recipe for miscommunication, disappointment, and hurt.
Since I already recognize that Jesus demands I tell people to come just as they are (something I want to talk about in a later post), how then do I stop expecting you to come as you were and as I want you to be? Well, if I knew the answer to that question, everyone would love me and my barista wouldn’t spit in my coffee.
But I do recognize the problem to be idolatry. Every Sunday I sing with other believers, proclaiming that you alone are the one that can change the broken heart, you alone can redeem the broken system. While I proclaim with my mouth that you are the change-agent this world needs, my expectations undermine me. My hypocrisy shows that what I really think is that I am almighty, and that by the sheer power of my expectations I can make the barista, my friends, my wife, a “better person.”
But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that by “better person,” I mean “just like me.” And in that one moment, where I erupt in anger and frustration because you have not met my expectations of you, I have declared that people ought to be carved into my image instead of Christ’s, that the Spirit needs my help to do this shaping, and that, far from numbers 1 & 2 being true, I am a delusional hypocrite who does not yet understand my own powerlessness.
And so “Come As You Are” is much more than a lyric in a song, much more than the abstract God’s stance toward you; for followers of that God as he is represented in Jesus, it must become a way of life.